Welcome Back Guest Aimee Hix

Here’s the thing about the writing community — they are generous, generous people. As you read this I’m flying to Green Bay for Writers Police Academy. On Monday, I was talking to Aimee and telling her how overwhelmed I felt with my schedule this week. I mentioned needing to write a blog and not having an idea for one. Aimee immediately said, “I’ll do it for you.” So here is Aimee. Go buy her books — she’s a wonderful writer and fantastic person.

SMAF. It sounds like a particularly sweet sneeze. Something that would issue forth from a bunny or another wee animal. It’s actually the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, a fantastic event in the town of Suffolk in Southeastern Virginia.

The town of Suffolk has a small town feel with historic buildings, wonderful places to eat, and so many wonderful residents – everyone was smiling, all the time.

There’s also the beautiful Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts that hosts the all-day mystery author festival takes place. Aside from the VIP Meet and Greet (which is a ticketed event) and, of course, the cost of any books you choose to purchase – all the events are free.

This was my first year and let me tell you, if they’ll have me again it won’t be my last. Thanks to the amazing, LynDee Walker, who wrangled an invite for me, I was able to attend this amazing event run by the most amazing people. The Suffolk Tourism team did everything they could to make all of the authors feel as special and famous as the headliners – Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner.

You want to talk about making a baby author feel special? I have a poster with my face on it … like I’m a movie star.

And there was a gift bag full of mystery- and Suffolk-themed gear. They even packed water and snacks in the bag so we wouldn’t get hungry. Unlikely, since there was a lunch just for us before the VIP Meet and Greet, also with food. And a hospitality room with infused waters, coffee and tea. AND, finally, a closing reception for the authors, their guests, and the Suffolk Tourism team. Did I mention there was a Welcome Reception and a ‘Haunted’ Cemetery tour with costumed-guide on Friday night?

You’re jealous now, aren’t you? You should be. Not only was the team so welcoming, warm, and generous but the attendees were too. Every person who came to the table to talk to us (LynDee and I shared a table, thank goodness, or I’d have been way too nervous) kept thanking me for offering them bookmarks or personalizing their books. Thanking me!!! Isn’t that crazy? I made sure I told every single one of them that we, the authors, we were grateful for them. That it was because of them that we were there. All readers need to remember that. You’re never “just a reader.” You’re the reason we get to do this job.

It wasn’t all just meeting people and selling books. The Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival also has panels and workshops. The panel I was on was called Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend: Crafting a Successful Thriller. Before SMAF, I wasn’t sure what qualified me to be on a panel about anything successful book-wise. I figured it out though. Success means something different to different people – sales, awards, bestsellers lists, college courses about your work – but for me, it’s being happy with what I’ve created and all that I’ve been privileged to enjoy because of my hard work.

Writing books is hard work. No, not like manual labor is hard work but quieting your inner critic and letting your imagination take hold. Creative work is not as valued as other jobs but just try to imagine the world without paintings, music, film, poetry, or books. It would be a world empty of all the things that make life worth living.

Writing the Willa Pennington PI series has fulfilled me in a way I knew was missing but didn’t know how to find, at first. The second book DARK STREETS COLD SUBURBS carried me through a six-month bout of vertigo and, my sweet puppy girl, Karma’s terminal cancer diagnosis and palliative care. She died three weeks after the release date of my first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU last January. Writing the series allows me to release some of the darker thoughts and feelings I have. It’s cheap therapy.

Meeting people who are interested in the world I’ve created, like the people who visited the Suffolk Mystery Author Festival, are a part of the therapy, the healing too. There’s something special about Suffolk and this festival. I know the biggest part of the wonderfulness of SMAF is Kathleen, Theresa, and the rest of the Suffolk Tourism Board team. I hope you’ll join me next summer so you can enjoy the festival, the people who run it, and the whole town of Suffolk. And don’t forget to try the giant cupcakes at the Plaid Turnip.

Readers: Have you attended a book festival? Do you have a favorite one?

Bio: An inability to pass the sight requirements, and a deep aversion to federal prison prevented Aimee from lying on her FBI application, so she set her deficient eyes on what most Northern Virginians do for work – the non-law enforcement side of the federal government.

After twenty years as a federal contractor, she retired and turned to murder. Fictionally, of course. She began writing the Willa Pennington PI mystery series in 2014 and decided to set it in her “hometown” of Fairfax County because of the rich diversity and opportunities for a private investigator to become entangled in with interesting people.

Aimee lives in Virginia enjoying LASIK-corrected eyesight with her family, three dogs, and all her killer thoughts. You can visit her at www.aimeehix.com.

Ah Malice Domestic

By Sherry — I’m home recovering from the lack of sleep and all the fun at Malice

Malice Domestic is the annual conference for fans of the traditional mystery. The first time I went was in 2003 as fan and hopeful writer. I was amazed by the crime fiction community then and continue to be now. I didn’t know a soul at that first conference. I stood in line at the restaurant for lunch and the woman in front of me turned and asked me to join her and her friend. It turns out that she was the prolific writer Lee Harris.

I have talked often about meeting Julie Hennrikus at Malice and how that changed the trajectory of my writing life. I gave Malice a shout out in the acknowledgements of my first book, Tagged for Death. For me Malice is all about connecting with people – seeing old friend and making new ones.

Here are Jessie and Edith with Rhys Bowen getting their certificates for their Agatha Best Historical nomination.

I don’t get to see the Wickeds very often. While it may seem like we are running over to each other’s houses for tea every other day, the truth is we are spread out all over the place. And poor me – I’m the farthest away. So Malice is one of the three or four times a year that I get to see them.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones

This year I was on a panel, Murder in New England, with friends Shari Randall and Julie Hennrikus  — how lucky is that? The other panel member was writer Leslie Meier who writes the Lucy Stone mystery series. I confess when I saw her name on the list of panel members I went total fan girl, but managed to maintain my cool on the actual panel.

Some people you only see long enough to give them a quick hug. Others you are lucky enough to sit down with for a chat. And some people you see photos of and wonder how you never managed to glimpse them!

 

This year my publisher Kensington gave away books. I sat by Debra Goldstein. Her new book, One Taste Too Many, doesn’t come out until December 18, 2018, but she passed out bookmarks. Then she said to each person, “I only have a bookmark, but Sherry has a great book you can get.” Did I mention how generous the crime writing community is? Oh, and Debra’s book is available for pre-order.

Attending the Sisters in Crime breakfast and the New Authors breakfast is always fun but oh so early when you’ve stayed up late so you don’t miss a minute of talking to someone. I keep campaigning for New Authors cocktail parties but no one listens to me. I confess I was a bit late to the New Authors breakfast but got to hear most of the authors. The short interviews are always a lot of fun. Here are just a few of the many wonderful debut authors:

Then there is getting to meet people you’ve only known online. The banquet, the Agatha Awards… Aw, heck, I could go on and on about how wonderful Malice is, but I’m guessing you get the point.

This year my Malice experience was extended for a bit because author Leslie Budewitz came home with me. We yakked until the wee hours and then got up at 5:30 to get Leslie to the Metro station for her flight home. Boo-hoo – why do you live so far away Leslie? And now it’s all over for another year. I’ve gotten some sleep (including a two hour nap Monday morning) and am now recharged and renewed.

I hope if you’ve never been to Malice that you get to go some day. It’s special. They give out scholarships to people who might not otherwise be able to attend. Here is the contact information: MaliceAngels@comcast.net

Readers: Is there a place you go to see old friends and meet new ones?

 

After The Contract — Guest Aimee Hix

Welcome, Aimee! I met Aimee through the writing community here in Northern Virginia. I was so happy when I found out that her Willa Pennington, P.I. series has been picked up by Midnight Ink. I’ve read the first seven chapters and she is an amazing writer. Here’s Aimee:

aimeemalice-29-photo-hix*classical music playing* Good morning, everyone. Come in, please. I’ve got some coffee, and tea, and hot cocoa. Or would you like your coffee or tea iced? Yes, some people do enjoy ice hot chocolate too. I can do that. Oh, you don’t want any iced hot chocolate, you were just mentioning that you can ice it too if you wanted? True. I have some baked goodies prepared, as well. I’ve made scones and muffins and cookies and a breakfast cake and … more treats. Just a few flavors each – we have blueberry, in honor of Barbara and her Maine-based Clambake Mysteries, maple for Jessie’s Sugar Grove Mysteries, Liz’s Pawsitively Organic Mysteries’ Apple and Cheddar Pupcakes for anyone who’s brought their furry friend, Edith’s Apple Almond Cake from her Country Store Mystery offering, some clock-decorated cookies for Julie’s Clock Shop Mystery Series, and finally some chai cookies in honor of Sherry, who I know likes chai because we are neighbors and I get to meet up with her for coffee (or chai) regularly.

Sorry, I bake when I’m nervous. A lot. And I babble too. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m talking out loud when I do it. My brain just sweeps my mouth along with it. I mean, there are times when I’m just talking away and I’m alone and it’s not true what they say – talking to yourself doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Responding doesn’t make you crazy either. Probably not worrying that either makes you crazy is a bad sign.

*looks around* They’re gone. It took them forever to vamoose. Those Wicked Cozy ladies are so nice and I’ve got some stuff I don’t want them hearing. Remind me to wipe off their nice coffee table when we’re done. I got some frosting from those clock cookies on it.

Here’s the deal, they’ve got no idea I’m a fraud. They think I’ve got something going on. But, and this is between you and me, I’m scamming everyone. See, I wrote this book. It’s a decent little book. It’s not going to change anyone’s life except mine. I’ve got a cool main character, Willa, who sure as heck doesn’t have a cook or a butler. She’s like me – never too sure what to wear so she always ends up wearing jeans, relies on coffee to make up for lack of sleep, really (!) likes her junk food, and curses like a sailor and a truck driver had a baby mechanic. And just like me Willa’s in way over her head.

GOOD NIGHT IRENE, CAN SOMEONE TURN OFF THAT BLEEDING RACHMANINOFF? IT’S THE CRACK OF FRACKING DAWN, FOR PETE’S SAKE! (My normal language has been cleaned up for the ladies and gentlemen visiting.)

Oh, we both yell a lot too.

Despite reading thousands of books in my lifetime (what my mentor, Matthew V. Clemens calls my MFA in Literature) I had no idea how to write a book. I really had no idea how to write mystery. I wasn’t a cop or a private investigator. Heck, I wasn’t even an amateur sleuth. I had no idea how to solve a crime so how was I going to have my main character investigate a crime? I was a fraud! I was a fraud before I even started writing the darn thing? What’s up with that?

I’m in good company though. If the experts are right, we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome to a degree. There are a bunch of articles about it and a TED Talk. (I love TED! At the end of the post hang on for some links to my favorites.) It’s the self-help research topic du jour. That’s reassuring, somewhat. I mean, I’m not really comfortable with the idea that air traffic controllers are up in their tower internally racked about whether or not they can keep ten planes from crashing but knowing that Evanovich and Rowling and King all look up from their keyboards and think, “Ack! What a load of shit I’m shoveling. No one will want to buy 400 pages of this tripe” helps a little when I’m 60,000 thousand words into a second book I barely know what’s supposed to happen in and my editor tells me they don’t like my first book’s title and we’re trying but we can’t come up with a new one. PANIC! And now what do I do? Can I convince her the title is perfect? Can I beg her? Will crying help? I mean, I’m already crying. Maybe if I call her and she can hear me crying …. Of course, I can’t convince her! What do I know? She’s the expert. I’m just a fraud.

aimecarA fraud who’s waiting to hear back. An impatient fraud. A scared fraud. It’s been two weeks. She said they had to postpone my launch meeting but that it gave us extra time. Did they skip my internal launch meeting? Did she decide they don’t want to publish the book? No book, no new title? That’s not how I want to get to keep my title. No, no, it’s fine. She’s busy. You’re not the only author she’s working with. They have other books that are being published sooner. Those come first. Other authors with other books. Better authors with better books. They’re not publishing my book because they’ve realized it’s not as good as the other authors’ books. No, no, it’s fine. You did this writing the book too. Panicking doesn’t solve anything. You’re worrying about things that aren’t real. Yet. Just concentrate on writing the second book.

That’s what I’m doing in between contract and publication – freaking out that I’m a fraud and people are going to catch on. Frankly, this is not a new aspect to my personality so I’m kind of an expert at it now. Maybe I’ll have that put on my business cards, Author and Expert Fraud.

So, how did I do it? How does a fraud write a mystery while worrying about being a fraud? I had to wing it. And the cool part was my main character could wing it too. And she could have angst about it too. And every feeling I’ve ever had she was going to have – scared, excited, overwhelmed, exhausted, determined. And that made her a more real character. Wow! I flipped the script on Imposter Syndrome and made it work for me.

It doesn’t mean I beat it. I still feel like a fraud sometimes (see above re: freaking out my publisher canceling my book’s publication). That’s okay. The experts are right – we all feel like frauds sometimes. We just can’t let it paralyze us and stop our forward momentum. I mean, I’ve got more books to write. Willa’s got more crimes to solve. We both feel a little more secure in our respective jobs. We’re not frauds. We’re not imposters. We’re just winging it … with a cup of coffee in one hand and a handful of cookies in the other. Now, if I could just figure out how to type with my nose. Sigh. I’ll bet Stephen King can type with his nose.

Oops! Almost forgot about wiping off that coffee table.

So what do you think … does Imposter Syndrome get to you too sometimes?

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

 

Lidia Yuknavitch: The Beauty of Being a Misfit

 

Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life

 

Nadia Lopez: Why Open a School? To Close a Prison

 

Brandon Stanton: The Good Story

 

Jess Lourey: Use Fiction to Rewrite Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5vSLh3oPXI&t=562s

jessscreenshot-2017-02-05-11-47-13Aimee Hix is the author of the Willa Pennington series set in Fairfax County, Virginia. The first book publishes in Winter 2018 from Midnight Ink. A former federal defense contractor who retired to write, she resides in Virginia with her family. Website: www.aimeehix.com

Oops! Almost forgot about wiping off that coffee table.

So what do you think … does Imposter Syndrome get to you too sometimes?